“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
2019 brought with it many steps made in faith as our team dared to continue growing our programs and nonprofit entity. Fueled by an amazing event weekend in Anchorage in May 2018 and inspired by participant feedback, I was looking for a way to make “Made For You” Expressive Arts Workshops a standing community offering and broaden its reach to other locations. After the mini-sessions and Storytelling workshops in Anchorage, I kept hearing powerful statements like “It was life-changing”, and “When are we doing it again?”. These encouraging responses coupled with the observed continued need for a safe space for spouses to express themselves and connect with others motivated me to expand my vision of “Made For You”. I wanted to offer something that fell somewhere between general/military community programming and therapy, something non-clinical but therapeutic. My hope was that it would be a place for spouses to come and pause, relax, work on themselves, be real about how they felt about military life, be cared for, and leave feeling supported, with new connections, resources, and a greater sense of who THEY are in this big expansive military life through creative expression. Creativity invites with it a unique opportunity to take risks and explore our inner worlds with a certain freedom other things don’t. But the beautiful thing is this place is not only for active duty spouses, it is also for fiancés preparing for military life, for spouses of service members being med-boarded or separated, for caregivers of veterans with PTSD and other seen or unseen wounds, and for spouses of retirees who miss the “wrap your arms around each other” support of the community that they left, whether recently or very long ago. It’s a place for them all to reconnect with the shared purpose, pride, struggle and story. But to be totally honest, I also wanted to continue to grow this program for my own opportunity to reflect and explore; I, too, am the spouse of an active duty service member who happens to be close to retirement, and these workshops are the most fulfilling, favorite work I have ever done.
The result of this desire to grow our “Made For You” Expressive Arts Workshop program was the development of a Self-Care Workshop Series piloted on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, facilitating a workshop session at Strong Bonds “Caring For the Caregiver” in Alaska, and the successful run of two “What’s Your Spouse Story?” Expressive Arts Workshops in Columbus, in 2019. In Anchorage, we launched the project with little funding and found support as we continued to bring this program to life amongst active duty and retiree spouses in Anchorage. With the solid backing of The Atwood Foundation, the Fort Richardson Spouses’ Club, and the National Military Family Association, we offered nine Expressive Arts Workshops at no cost to veterans’ spouses. During each session, we provided breakfast and lunch along with psychoeducation addressing various aspects of self-care, mindfulness activities and invitations for creative expression. We used the following fun themes: “What Fills Your Cup?”, “What Opens Your Heart?”, “What Anchors You?”, “What Wave Are You Riding?”, then moved to “What’s Your Spouse Story?” as a culminating event. The latter theme was the offering in GA which proved to be our most heartfelt yet; those events saw participants in our widest age- and experience-range. Its success was beyond my wildest dreams and we have many people and organizations to thank for it: The Georgia State Council for the Arts, several private donors, the Pastoral Institute, and our guest co-facilitator, Barbe Tarantino. The connections were so palpable, and the sharing so authentic, that people kept coming back to the series sessions; I heard later about numerous accounts of participants from the GA sessions staying in touch long after the event. These bonds are beautiful and mean so much in a lifestyle that has so much change in it. The success of both fostered an invitation by the US Army Chaplaincy to guest facilitate a session for couples/families inviting them to explore their identities through expressive arts. It was an extreme honor.
Taking steps in faith is what our open hearts told us to do. So thank you, team, for taking risks. Thank you, community organizations, for supporting us. And thank you, participants, for saying YES to YOU and coming to a workshop in 2019. These three things help us see the staircase before our foot hits the first step, and help our open hearts to continue catching the dreams that lay ahead for The Veteran’s Spouse Project. This work was made for us, and our expressive arts program is MADE FOR YOU. Coming to Louisiana, Maryland, and other locations to be announced in 2020!